Unveiling 2017’s Senior Projects

Elle Stetson Dibble '18 and Sofie Jones '18

Each Spring, members of the Concord Academy community gather in the Ransome Room for one afternoon to see the year’s senior projects presented. As seniors set up exhibits on individual tables, rapidly explaining their process, onlookers peruse the different displays. It is evident to all those who walk through that each senior project is unique, representing the student who is behind it.

This year, an impressive twenty six senior projects were presented to the school on May 23. These projects ranged from Miranda Brown’s ’17 dance performance set to the rhythm of recorded words to Jacob Morton’s ’17 self-written novella. Others included Jerry Liang’s ’17 development of an app to track stress, Maren Taylor’s ’17 plans for a CA greenhouse, and Sam Chester’s exploration of the banjo throughout history.

Although all CA students have the opportunity to see the finished projects, few have insight into the process of pitching, creating, and completing the projects. The Centipede caught up with a few of students who elected to do senior projects this year to gain a better understanding of this CA curriculum option that few know much about until senior year.

The senior project process begins in the early fall of senior year, as students present topic proposals to a committee comprised of seven faculty members. As Academic Dean John Drew, a member of the committee, explained, “We are looking for projects that are interdisciplinary and/or experiential, but mostly things that students seem passionate about pursuing.” Those whose projects are approved then begin planning and start work on their topics at the start of spring semester in order to have them done by late May.

One of this year’s most visible senior projects was Nina He’s ’17 portraits of every member of the senior class. He said she actually got the idea after being sent an article about a student at another school who undertook a similar project. She said, “Someone just messaged me a link to the article [about the student], and said, oh you should do this, just as a joke. And I was like, I probably should.” Working both at her home and in the painting studio with her project advisor Jonathan Smith all semester, He managed to paint every member of the senior class. Although she admitted that it was a big project to take on, and required her to dedicate many hours a day to it, He said that she has learned a lot through the experience and is very glad she decided to take it on. “I really enjoy painting and time passes really quickly when I paint,” she explained. “I feel like I got to know everyone in my class better. It’s a pretty intimate experience staring at someone’s nostrils for 20 minutes.”

Abigail Bresler’s ’17 project, like He’s, resulted in the deepening of a personal relationship.  Bresler’s oral history-based project focused on her grandfather, a doctor at the Maine Medical Center. To Bresler, the chance to do a senior project came as the perfect opportunity to delve deeper into her familial heritage. “I really like independent work, so I knew I wanted to do a senior project,” she said. “This project is with oral history and my grandfather…I knew that he had really interesting stories that I wanted to be recorded.”

After sitting down for several interviews with her grandfather, Bresler then wrote a paper on the information she had gathered. The audio from her interviews is also going to be used, and transcribed, by the Maine Medical Center in the near future. To Bresler, senior projects signify a chance to connect with the stories, people, and issues that can sometimes become distant because of a busy school schedule. She said, “It’s amazing that CA gives us this opportunity to pursue a whole semester long project on our own. That’s a really incredible opportunity because I wouldn’t have had the time to do this unless I had been given the blocks and the credits for it.”

Tim Lyu ’17 completed a project about Japanese-American internment, and looking at its history through the lense of literature. He said that, although he was always interested in this subject, his project changed and evolved in the six or so months since it was first proposed to the senior project committee. “You start very ambitious…then there’s downtime where you have to figure out where to start,” he said.

Lyu, like Bresler, was thankful to have been given the freedom to delve deeper into a topic of his own choosing. “It gives me more room to be creative…Usually the courses at CA cover a wide range of stuff, but we hardly get time to really dig into something, especially something that we’re [especially] interested in,” he explained. “I think it’s a really precious opportunity to do that.”

Mary Craig ’17 had a similar experience, choosing to focus on the story of a Guatemalan woman she knows who immigrated to the United States illegally. Craig interviewed the woman to learn about her own experience on the dangerous journey and then wove her narrative in with supplementary research in order to craft a paper. “It’s a big story,” she said. “This is always something I’ve been really interested in and I’ve always wanted to work on. When it came to senior year and they said you could do something for a whole semester, I was like, I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”

This is, according to Drew, the purpose of a senior project. As he said, these projects “are an opportunity for seniors in their final semester to work independently on something they really care about. It’s a nice final exercise, a capstone experience to one’s CA education!”